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Impasse remains but city open to new union proposal

By Staff | Sep 24, 2011

The city’s labor negotiators acknowledged on Friday a new proposal brought forward by the police union, but questioned how the offer was presented.

John Hament, the city’s labor attorney, responded on behalf of the city.

“Even though we are at impasse in negotiations as to both police units, we acknowledge that you have requested a resumption in bargaining,” he wrote in an e-mail directed at the Cape Coral Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 33.

Earlier this month, the city declared an impasse after the union offered a proposal involving a 4 percent pension increase that would reduce over two years, as well as a starting salary reduction of 6 percent for all new hires.

At the time, the city was seeking a straight 8 percent wage reduction.

Hament acknowledged that the union has provided the city with a new plan, and that the union intends to present it “formally at the bargaining table.”

“You can be assured that this or any other good faith proposal will be given careful consideration,” he wrote in the e-mail.

On Wednesday, the union offered what it said were nearly $807,000 in concessions.

Under the plan, union members would increase their pension contribution 3 percent, up from the current 7 percent. Members would also agree to take on 40 or 32 furlough hours each year, depending on their years of service.

Union president Kurt Grau estimated that the savings from the pension contribution increase will be about $348,513. The estimated savings from the furloughs is about $458,265, comparable to a 2 percent salary cut.

The contract would remain status quo until September 2012.

Grau anticipates that union members could ratify it before October.

Hament declined to discuss the city’s position on the offer Friday.

“We’ll go to bargaining, and then we’ll take a position at the bargaining table,” he said during a telephone interview Friday. “We’re not going to bargain out in public, that’s why I’m questioning his (Grau’s) motives.”

When Grau presented the proposal Wednesday on behalf of the union, it was e-mailed to the Cape Coral City Council members, mayor and city manager. In doing that, Grau sidestepped the city’s labor negotiating team and Hament.

“Finally, we note that the union has unilaterally modified our agreed-upon bargaining protocol by virtue of disseminating your bargaining proposal to the council members and the public in advance of negotiations,” Hament wrote in the e-mailed response. “Your motives for this deviation are questioned.”

Grau explained Friday that the union did want to wait weeks for a meeting.

“My intent was to make sure the city council had all the information available prior to the budget hearing last night (Thursday), and that they understood the importance and significance of our offer to them,” he said.

“I felt that if we waited to reschedule another meeting with the city, it would take several more weeks,” Grau said.

On Friday, Hament expected that it would take two or three weeks before labor negotiators for the city and union could sit down to bargain again.

The city’s human resources department is currently working on it.

“We’re basically going to make a formal offer to the city,” Grau said of what the union intends to do once the two parties meet.

He thinks that the city’s negotiators and city officials will be receptive.

“Our offer actually saves them more than the other one,” Grau said.

In July, the union membership voted 185-1 to reject tentative agreements for a 3 percent pay cut and 2 percent pension contribution hike for officers, sergeants and lieutenants. Those totaled about $802,000 a year in savings.

When the proposal was presented Wednesday, some on the city council voiced support, while others thought that furloughs would equate to fewer officers on the streets and, as a result, more overtime pay to dish out.

Lt. Tony Sizemore, the spokesman for the Cape Coral Police Department, explained that furloughs are unpaid leave time. A cost-savings measure, they are prescheduled in accordance with existing leave time and staffing levels.

“It’s a minimal impact,” he said.

Officers do not take all their hours at once, where overtime is needed.

For example, he explained, 40 furlough hours in one year would be broken down to 10 hours per quarter, or about 3 and a half hours per month. If an officer comes on duty at 6 a.m., he or she may come in at 7 a.m. instead.

“That could be one furlough hour for one employee,” Sizemore said.

The following week, another officer might get off an hour early.

“We just make sure there’s an overlap of schedules,” he said. “They (hours) can be taken in many different conjunctions to make sure we have staffing.”

As another example, Sizemore cited if an officer were to take a 40-hour vacation, but they only use up 38 vacation hours. Those last two hours can be subtracted from the number of furlough hours available to the officer.

“So you’re chipping away at that time frame throughout the year,” he said.

The department’s civilian staff and command staff – the rank of captain and above – have undergone furloughs for more than two years now. Civilian staffers currently have 38 hours a year, and the command staff have 40.

“It works without any kind of financial impact or overtime to cover,” he said.

Sizemore added that the command staff may not be the front line, on-the-street officers, “but they are a viable part of this organization.”

As the city and police union continue negotiations, the impasse stands. The city has waived the first step – mediation – which one party can do, by law. The next step is a special magistrate. Law says both parties must waive it.

Hament previously said the city wants to waive the first two steps and take the issue directly to the legislative body, which would be the city council. The magistrate can provide a recommendation, but the council has the final say.

Kunkel, Miller & Hament has been representing the city in the negotiations with fire, as well as police and general employees. As of Sept. 7, the city had paid the firm $74,318 for its services in connection to the police union talks.

It paid $54,348 in the fire talks, and $114,527 for the general employees.